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Every night we passed towns, some of them away up on black hillsides, nothing but just a shiny bed of lights; not a house could you see. The fifth night we passed St. Louis, and it was like the whole world lit up. In St. Petersburg they used to say there was twenty or thirty thousand people in St. Louis, but I never believed it till I see that wonderful spread of lights at two o’clock that still night. There warn’t a sound there; everybody was asleep. We passed a few towns each night. The towns way up on the hillsides looked light nothing but patches of shiny lights because you couldn’t see any houses. On the fifth night, we passed St. Louis. It was so bright that it looked like the whole world was lit up. People in St. Petersburg used to say that there were twenty or thirty thousand people in St. Louis. I never believed them until I saw all those amazing lights at two o’clock that quiet night. Everyone was asleep and you couldn’t hear a sound.
Every night now I used to slip ashore towards ten o’clock at some little village, and buy ten or fifteen cents’ worth of meal or bacon or other stuff to eat; and sometimes I lifted a chicken that warn’t roosting comfortable, and took him along. Pap always said, take a chicken when you get a chance, because if you don’t want him yourself you can easy find somebody that does, and a good deed ain’t ever forgot. I never see pap when he didn’t want the chicken himself, but that is what he used to say, anyway. Around ten o’clock every night, I’d swim ashore to whatever little village we’d happen to be passing. I’d buy ten or fifteen cents worth of corn meal or bacon or other food. Sometimes I even stole a chicken that wasn’t roosting comfortably. Pap always said to take a chicken when you had the chance because you can always give it away if you don’t want to eat it. Then that person will owe you a favor. I never knew pap to actually turn down a chicken, but that’s what he used to say.
Mornings before daylight I slipped into cornfields and borrowed a watermelon, or a mushmelon, or a punkin, or some new corn, or things of that kind. Pap always said it warn’t no harm to borrow things if you was meaning to pay them back some time; but the widow said it warn’t anything but a soft name for stealing, and no decent body would do it. Jim said he reckoned the widow was partly right and pap was partly right; so the best way would be for us to pick out two or three things from the list and say we wouldn’t borrow them any more—then he reckoned it wouldn’t be no harm to borrow the others. So we talked it over all one night, drifting along down the river, trying to make up our minds whether to drop the watermelons, or the cantelopes, or the mushmelons, or what. But towards daylight we got it all settled satisfactory, and concluded to drop crabapples and p’simmons. We warn’t feeling just right before that, but it was all comfortable now. I was glad the way it come out, too, because crabapples ain’t ever good, and the p’simmons wouldn’t be ripe for two or three months yet. Every morning just before dawn I’d sneak into cornfields and borrow some watermelon, mushmelon, pumpkins, corn, or something like that. Pap always said there wasn’t any harm in borrowing things if you meant to pay them back at some point. The widow, though, said borrwing was just a nicer way of saying stealing, which decent people didn’t do. Jim said he figured that pap and the widow were both right. He said it’d be best if we compromised by promising ourselves that we just wouldn’t borrow certain things anymore but continue borrowing others. So we talked about it one night while we were drifting down the river. We tried to decide whether we’d give up watermelon, cantaloup, or mushmelons. By dawn, we’d decided to give up borrowing crabapples and persimmons. We’d been feeling a little guilty before, but now we felt much better about things. I was glad that we hadd settled this way, since crabapples never taste and persimmons wouldn’t be ripe for another two or three months.
We shot a water-fowl now and then that got up too early in the morning or didn’t go to bed early enough in the evening. Take it all round, we lived pretty high. Every now and then we’d shoot a waterfowl that woke up too early or went to bed too late. All in all, we lived pretty well.
The fifth night below St. Louis we had a big storm after midnight, with a power of thunder and lightning, and the rain poured down in a solid sheet. We stayed in the wigwam and let the raft take care of itself. When the lightning glared out we could see a big straight river ahead, and high, rocky bluffs on both sides. By and by says I, “Hel-LO, Jim, looky yonder!” It was a steamboat that had killed herself on a rock. We was drifting straight down for her. The lightning showed her very distinct. She was leaning over, with part of her upper deck above water, and you could see every little chimbly-guy clean and clear, and a chair by the big bell, with an old slouch hat hanging on the back of it, when the flashes come. A big storm hit just after midnight on the fifth night after we’d passed St. Louis. There was lots of thunder and lightning, and the rain came down in a solid sheet. We stayed in the wigwam and let the raft take care of itself. When the lightning flashed, we could see the big river straight ahead and high, rocky cliffs on both sides. At one point I said, “Hey, Jim! Look over there!” I pointed to a steamboat that had run aground on a rock directly in our path. We could see the boat clearly each time the lightning flashed. The boat was leaning over to one side, with only part of the topmost deck above water. You could see each little smokestack and a chair by the big bell that had an old hat hanging on the back of it.
Well, it being away in the night and stormy, and all so mysterious-like, I felt just the way any other boy would a felt when I see that wreck laying there so mournful and lonesome in the middle of the river. I wanted to get aboard of her and slink around a little, and see what there was there. So I says: Since the storm made things dark and spooky, I felt like any other boy would feel if he saw that shipwreck just listing there so lonely in the middle of the river: I just had to get aboard and explore! So I said,
“Let’s land on her, Jim.” “Let’s land on it, Jim.”
But Jim was dead against it at first. He says: Jim didn’t want to at first. He said,
“I doan’ want to go fool’n ’long er no wrack. We’s doin’ blame’ well, en we better let blame’ well alone, as de good book says. Like as not dey’s a watchman on dat wrack.” “I don’t want to go fooling around on that wreck. We’re doing fine without it, and we’d better let it alone, like the Bible says. More likely than not there are guards protecting that wreck.”
“Watchman your grandmother,” I says; “there ain’t nothing to watch but the texas and the pilot-house; and do you reckon anybody’s going to resk his life for a texas and a pilot-house such a night as this, when it’s likely to break up and wash off down the river any minute?” Jim couldn’t say nothing to that, so he didn’t try. “And besides,” I says, “we might borrow something worth having out of the captain’s stateroom. Seegars, I bet you—and cost five cents apiece, solid cash. Steamboat captains is always rich, and get sixty dollars a month, and THEY don’t care a cent what a thing costs, you know, long as they want it. Stick a candle in your pocket; I can’t rest, Jim, till we give her a rummaging. Do you reckon Tom Sawyer would ever go by this thing? Not for pie, he wouldn’t. He’d call it an adventure—that’s what he’d call it; and he’d land on that wreck if it was his last act. And wouldn’t he throw style into it?—wouldn’t he spread himself, nor nothing? Why, you’d think it was Christopher C’lumbus discovering Kingdom-Come. I wish Tom Sawyer WAS here.” “Guards, my butt,” I said. “There’s nothing for guards to watch for but the cabins and the pilothouse. Do you think anyone would risk his neck to protect a cabin and a pilothouse on a night like this, when the whole boat is about to break up and float down the river any minute?” Jim didn’t have a response, so he said nothing. “Besides,” I said. “We might find something in the captain’s quarters that’s worth borrowing. I bet we find cigars worth five dollars in cash each. All steamboat captains are rich. They get paid sixty dollars a month, and they don’t care what anything costs. They just buy whatever they want. Here, put a candle in your pocket, Jim. I’m not going to be able to sleep until we rummage around. Do you think Tom Sawyer would ever pass up an opportunity like this? Not for anything, he wouldn’t. He’d call it an adventure. He’d board that wreck if he knew it’d be the last thing he did before he died. He’d do it in style, too. Why, you’d swear he was Christopher Columbus discovering the New World. Man, I wish Tom Sawyer WERE here.”